Tag Archives: USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78)

Ford completes flight deck certification (1711 days after commissioning)

“War Party Rocks!!!” A Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8) F-18E Rhino of Strike Fighter Squadron 87 (VFA-87), the Golden Warriors, traps aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) during her recent FDC and CATCC. Formed in 1968 to fly A-7s, the Warriors were in combat over Vietnam from the decks of USS Ticonderoga just nine months after they were established. They recently made headlines downing a Syrian Su-22 in 2017, the Superhornet’s first ATA victory.

Class-leading supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), once she gets all the bugs worked out, will be the most capable flattop that has ever flat-topped. Commissioned on 22 July 2017 after a nearly eight-year build process, the warship that was ordered in 2008 is gearing up for her first real-world deployment later this year and there are signs things are going right.

Chief among these? With famed and historic CVW-8 aboard– which formed in 1943 and sailed for combat aboard USS Intrepid back in WWIIFord completed her Flight Deck Certification (FDC) and Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC) certification on March 29.

Via CVN78’s PAO:

Once out to sea, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, E-2D Hawkeyes, and MH-60S Nighthawks assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 conducted operations to prove the ship’s and crew’s capabilities. To achieve certification, Ford conducted more than 400 day and night catapult launches and trap recoveries. Prior to getting underway, Ford’s air department was evaluated on its ability to respond to flight deck emergencies and firefighting.

“Ford and Carrier Air Wing 8 were meticulous during the whole certification evolution,” said Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain Mate (Equipment) Carl Higdon, the air department’s leading chief petty officer. “Every Sailor aboard contributed to our success of the mission. I’m really proud to be a part of this team.”

Following flight deck certification, flight operations continued to keep pilots’ carrier qualifications and proficiency current, demonstrating Ford’s contribution to air wing and fleet readiness through capabilities provided by the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG).

“Flight deck certification is a significant milestone in preparation for our first deployment,” said Capt. Paul Lanzilotta, Ford’s Commanding Officer. “We have more tests and evaluations to complete during our next underway periods, and I have no doubt that our Sailors will rise to the challenge and accomplish the mission.”

Ford will head underway again this month for additional milestone events that will prepare the ship for a scheduled deployment later this year.

Is Warship 78 Actually just over the Horizon?

The very troublesome new first-in-class supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) has a lot of gee-whiz improvements over the 10 tried-and-true Nimitz class flattops which have been the backbone of Naval Aviation since the 1990s when they surpassed the legacy “smokers” of the Midway, Forrestal, and Kitty Hawk class in numbers. This includes a new nuclear plant with the (crucial) ability to generate nearly three times the amount of electrical power, an innovative advanced arresting gear, and the electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) that enables the Navy to leave the old (reliable) steam gear behind, and other improvements that lead to a huge ship that requires fewer Bluejackets to sail and fight.

One of the improvements was the promised Advanced Weapons Elevator (AWE) which the Navy billed as “using several advanced technologies including electromagnetic motors vice more labor-intensive, hydraulic systems,” that enables fewer sailors to safely move ordnance from weapons magazines to the flight deck with unparalleled speed and agility.”

The thing is, they didn’t work and the contractor has been scrambling for years to get them fixed. Finally, on Wednesday PEO Aircraft Carriers reported that the 11th and final AWE has been installed and turned over to Ford’s crew.


Sailors assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) weapons department, receive MK-82 500-pound class inert bombs on one of Ford’s Advanced Weapons Elevators, May 30, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Seelbach)

“This is a significant milestone for the Navy, ship, and her crew,” said RADM James P. Downey, Program Executive Officer for Aircraft Carriers. “With the completion of this final AWE, we now have the entire system to operate and train with.”

The work comes as Ford is at Newport News Shipyard in support of her Planned Incremental Availability (PIA), a six-month period of modernization, maintenance, and repairs, that began in September. When she emerges in March 2022, she will start workups for her inaugural deployment.

Keep in mind that she has already gone through 21 months of post-delivery tests and trials (PDT&T) and Full Ship Shock Trials (FSST), as she was delivered to the Navy by Newport News in May 2017 after eight years of construction.

Now to get EMALS working. Designed to achieve 4,166 aircraft launches between operational mission failures, a DoD report earlier this year said it went 181 launches between failures, or “well below the requirement.” 

It’s not like USS Nimitz was laid down in 1968 or anything…

This looks bad when you consider the Brits have, with a smaller shipbuilding industry and without having crafted a large-deck carrier since the 1950s, was able to construct their new 65,000-ton carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08)— laid down the same year as Ford— by 2017 and just completed an extensive halfway-around-the-world deployment with her, albeit with some of help from “The Colonies.”

Let’s hope this lengthy teething period will help streamline the (successful) delivery of Ford’s classmates, the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), Enterprise (CVN 80), and Doris Miller (CVN 81).

Likewise, Navy Air is not standing still, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation Demonstration (UCAD) of the MQ-25A unmanned air system prototype aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) has been going on this month, and shows promise, especially when it comes to halting the waste of using half the fleet’s Hornets to refuel the other half for strikes further than 400 miles out.

Ford Gets a Shock

The world’s largest warship and the lead ship of her class, the supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) has been getting rocked by underwater explosions in Full Ship Shock Trials while underway in the Atlantic Ocean. It makes for some impressive images.

These provided by Warship 78’s social media account by MCSN Jackson Adkins, MC3 Riley McDowell, MC3 Zachary Melvin, taken 18 June.

Taking place some 100 miles off the Florida coast just before 4 p.m. Friday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey the blast hit the scales there as a 3.9 magnitude earthquake.

Laid down in 2009 after four years of pre-production, Ford commissioned 22 July 2017, two months after she was delivered, and has been undergoing trials, tests, and refits for the past four years.

The Navy hopes she will be ready to deploy in 2023.

Comparing old- and new-school U.S. flattops

The $13 billion supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), the inaugural ship of her class, has been underway for the past week or so in the Atlantic with the bulk of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 along for the ride– her largest aircraft embark to date— trying to work out some persistent bugs (more on that in a minute) but in doing so has was part of an amazing 40+ photo ex with the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), whose strike group is returning home from a crazy long 270+ day cruise with 5th and 6th Fleet.

(U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ruben Reed and Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Riley McDowell/Released)

The 4 June passing was the first time a Ford-class and a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier have operated together underway.

The ships are near dead-ringers in size and general layout. Truman, the eighth Nimitz-class ship (last of the Flight II/Theodore Roosevelt subclass), was commissioned 25 July 1998 while Ford has been extensively working up since 2017.

Note that Ford has nearly 30 aircraft on deck, mostly Rhinos.

Both carriers tip the scales at around 100,000 tons and are the same general overall length within about a Volkswagen’s Beetle worth of difference (1,092 ft. on Truman, 1,106 ft. on Ford).

Unseen below deck, Truman carries a pair of older Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, while Ford has newer Bechtel A1B nuclear reactors, with the latter reportedly cranking out about 25% more power while having a smaller footprint.

The islands are extremely different.

Truman carries AN/SPS-48E 3-D and AN/SPS-49(V)5 2-D air search radars along with a host of ATC and landing radars. Ford is equipped with AN/SPY-3 and AN/SPY-4 active electronically scanned array multi-function radar and her island is both 20 feet taller than that of the Nimitz class and is 140 feet further aft while being a yard closer to the edge of the ship (watch your step!)

Of note, the Navy was able to wave the banner of having seven carriers at sea at the same time for a couple weeks, anyway. Also a rarity.

Controversially, Ford has two other things that the proven steam-catapult equipped Nimitz class does not: the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), which is supposed to boost the number of sorties she can generate per day by 25 %, and advanced weapons and aircraft elevators. The thing is, both systems are buggy as hell, with the Navy basically being the Beta Tester on them.

For example, on June 2, just prior to a scheduled flight deck operation cycle, the ship’s Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) went down. Loss of EMALS curtailed flight operations to some extent, but the Strike Group, ship, and air wing team still accomplished significant goals scheduled for the Ford-class aircraft carrier.

After several days of troubleshooting and assessing a fault in the launch system’s power handling elements, embarked EMALS experts and Ford’s crew restored the system to enable the safe fly-off of the air wing on Sunday morning, June 7.

Five days with no catapult is for sure no Bueno for a carrier, although she was able to eventually pull off, “day and night cyclic flight operations totaling 324 catapult launches and arrested landings, qualifying 50 pilots,” during the weeklong period.

The weapons generator seem to be working a bit better:

200530-N-NX070-1123 ATLANTIC OCEAN (May 30, 2020) Aviation Ordnancemen assigned to the weapons department aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) bring inert training bombs up to the flight deck during flight operations, May 30, 2020. Ford is underway in the Atlantic Ocean conducting integrated air wing operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist RJ Stratchko/Released)

The air wing’s embark provided the first opportunity for Ford’s weapons department to execute a full ordnance movement using a lower stage weapons elevator. Performing as advertised, Ford’s AWEs conducted more than 1,300 cycles during this latest at sea period that enabled the successful transfer of 176 inert bombs in support of air wing operations. Ford’s AWEs have conducted over 10,000 cycles to date.

On the bright side, Ford was able to verify that her tactical data links are working and she embarked a strike group commander recently.

As noted:

Commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12 also embarked on Ford during this underway, marking the first time a Strike Group Commander and staff embarked on Ford for operations. CSG-12 was able to successfully conduct all intended command and control operations, control and distribute the link picture, and coordinate with Ford and Truman Strike Group assets as well as higher headquarters. Rear Adm. Craig Clapperton, commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12 assessed that the Strike Group and ship are ahead of schedule in this important command and control domain.

Most importantly, at least they got a Final Countdown photo for the cruise book…

200607-N-NX070-1076 ATLANTIC OCEAN (June 7, 2020) The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) steams through a storm in the Atlantic Ocean June 7, 2020, before disembarking Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, following successfully integrated air wing operations. Ford is underway conducting an independent steaming event. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist RJ Stratchko/Released)

Ford marks 1K trap, cat

Looks like the Ford is actually getting the kinks worked out of its new-fangled electromagnetic cats and upgraded arresting gear.

From the NAVY:

ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) — An F/A-18E Super Hornet, attached to “Blue Blasters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34, landed aboard USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) flight deck marking the 1,000th recovery of a fixed-wing aircraft using Ford’s Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) March 19, 2020, at 5:13 p.m.

Minutes later, the crew celebrated a second milestone launching an F/A18 E Super Hornet attached to “Warhawks” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 97 from Ford’s Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) catapults for the 1,000th time.

This significant milestone in the ships’ history began on July 28, 2017, with Ford’s first fixed-wing recovery and launch using its first-in-class AAG and EMALS technologies.

Capt. J.J. “Yank” Cummings, Ford’s commanding officer, explained how the entire Ford crew has worked together over the last few years to reach this achievement.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our crew, their motivation is amazing,” said Cummings. “We’ve been working extremely hard to get here today, and to see this 1,000th trap completely validates their efforts and the technology on this warship.”

Boasting the Navy’s first major design investment in aircraft carriers since the 1960s, Ford’s AAG and EMALs support greater launch and recovery energy requirements of future air wings, increasing the safety margin over legacy launch and arresting gear found on Nimitz-class carriers.

Lt. Scott Gallagher, assigned to VFA 34, has landed on five other carriers but became a part of Ford’s history with his, and the ship’s 1,000, recovery.

“There are a lot of people who are working night and day to make sure that this ship is ready to go be a warship out in the world,” said Gallagher. “To be a part of that, and this deck certification is super cool. Also getting the 1,000th trap helps the ship get one step closer to being the warship that it needs to be.”

Capt. Joshua Sager, commander, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, explained why his squadron’s integration with the ship’s personnel is important and how their relationship impacts operations.

“It’s great to share this moment in history with Ford. Integration between the air wing and ship’s company is crucial to the everyday success of carrier operations,” said Sager. “Completion of the 1,000th catapult and arrestment shows that the ship and her crew have tested and proven the newest technology the Navy has, and together we are ready to meet the operational requirements of our nation.”

With 1,000 launches and recoveries complete, Ford will continue its flight deck and combat air traffic control certifications in preparation to deliver to the fleet regular flight operations in support of East Coast carrier qualifications.

ATLANTIC OCEAN (March 19, 2020) Lt. Scott “Gameday” Gallagher lands an F/A-18F Super Hornet, attached to “Blue Blasters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34, for the 1,000th trap on USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) flight deck during flight operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Gary Prill)

Warship 78?

The new aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) has been getting lots of knocks in the past few years and with good reason. Commissioned, 22 July 2017, now going on three years in service, and she has been far from being considered “fleet ready” with tons of post-delivery updates and modifications that have been pushed through as shakedown and availability proved many of the ship’s vital systems to include her cats, traps, and elevators, just plain didn’t work.

(A)SECNAV Thomas Modly on getting the ship on track and getting it right.

However, as a sign of improvements, Ford just completed Aircraft Compatibility Testing (ACT) Jan. 31, following 16 days at sea, during which the crew launched and recovered 211 aircraft, testing five different airframes, using first-generation, state-of-the-art flight deck systems.

As noted by the Navy: “This second and final round of testing validated the ship’s capability to launch and to recover aircraft with ordnance loadout and fuel states mirroring deployed requirements and operating tempos, using the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG)—two Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (ALRE) systems unique to Ford.”

By completing T-45 testing, the Ford will be able to provide carrier qualification support to the Training Command and to student naval aviators in the jet/E-2/C-2 pipeline.

“There are so many firsts happening, and many of them we frankly don’t even really realize,” explained Ford’s Air Boss, Cmdr. Mehdi Akacem toward the end of the testing evolution. “We’ve had the first-ever T-45, EA-18 Growler, E-2D Hawkeye, and C-2A Greyhound, and there are pilots on board this ship right now who will forever be able to say that their contribution to the Navy was to be the first pilot or NFO [Naval Flight Officer] to come aboard the Gerald R. Ford-class in that type aircraft.”

Gerald, turning and burning

Just the Ford making some high-speed turns on 29 October. Looks pretty good for a carrier that has been sidelined for the past 15 months in post-delivery repairs err, post-shakedown availability.

Hopefully she will meet the Navy’s new guideline of being operational “well before” 2024.

Note the extensive arrays on her island.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Connor Loessin)

Indianapolis arriving, Delaware delivered, Finally Ford, McCain in play, and the Tulagi Shuffle

Over the weekend in the freshwater Great Lakes harbor at Burns Harbor, Indiana, USS Indianapolis (LCS-17), the latest Freedom-class littoral combat ship, commissioned. She is the fourth such vessel, and second surface combatant, to carry the moniker. While I would personally have liked to see a cruiser, LHA, or destroyer carry the name due to the legacy of CA-58, the second Indianapolis, I am nonetheless happy to see the name on the Navy list once again. Indy is the 19th LCS to be commissioned and is expected to be assigned to Littoral Combat Ship Squadron Two in Mayport. She is the fifth such Freedom assigned to LCSRON2.

USS Delaware

Elsewhere in U.S. Navy news last week, the latest Virginia-class attack submarine, PCU USS Delaware (SSN 791) was delivered to the Navy by Ingalls. Notably, when she is fully commissioned as the 7th Delaware, it will end a nearly century-long drought on the Navy List for that name which was last issued to Battleship No. 28 in 1909, a vessel that was broken up for scrap under the 1921 Washington Naval Treaty. SSN-791 is the 18th Virginia and last of the Block III boats.

USS Gerald R. Ford

Further, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) finally departed Newport News Shipbuilding and returned to sea for the first time since beginning their post-shakedown availability in July 2018 (!) to get back to the business of conducting sea trials, now well over a year since she was commissioned. Navy officials hope she will be ready for regular fleet service by 2024.

John S. McCain

Speaking of gone for a while, USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) is underway to conduct comprehensive at-sea testing. She has been sidelined for repairs and extensive, accelerated upgrades over the last two years, following a collision in August 2017.

“This whole crew is eager to get back to sea, and that’s evident in the efforts they’ve made over the last two years to bring the ship back to fighting shape, and the energy they’ve put into preparing themselves for the rigors of at-sea operations,” said CDR Ryan T. Easterday, John S. McCain‘s commanding officer. “I’m extremely proud of them as we return the ship to sea, and return to the operational fleet more ready than ever to support security and stability throughout the region.”

Tulagi?

And in South Pacific news, the planned 75-year lease on the entire island of Tulagi (Tulaghi) in the Solomon Islands looks like it is going to fall through. Well known to students of WWII, the Japanese occupied Tulagi in May 1942 in the days just before the Battle of the Coral Sea and was captured by the 1st Marine Raiders that August, forming an important PT-boat base during the Guadalcanal Campaign (JFK’s PT-109, part of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 2, operated from there.) They proved important in winning control of “The Slot” during that campaign. Likewise, if the Japanese had held Tulagi that summer, the whole operation would have been just that much harder to pull off.

Japanese Navy Type 1 land attack planes (Betty) make a torpedo attack on the Tulagi invasion force, 8 August 1942. The burning ship in the center distance is probably USS George F. Elliott (AP-13), which was hit by a crashing Japanese aircraft during this attack. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 97766

As the crow flies, Tulagi could have been a strategic key to that part of the region as it is directly between Hawaii and Australia. This is especially true if you could pick up those keys for cheap on an extended multi-generational lease.

”I want to applaud the decision of the Solomon Islands attorney general to invalidate the Chinese effort to lease the island of Tulagi for 75 years,” said Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper. “This is an important decision to reinforce sovereignty, transparency, and the rule of law. Many nations in the Pacific have discovered far too late that Chinese use of economic and military levers to expand their influence often is detrimental to them and their people.”

Looks like Ford can catch, and receive

ATLANTIC OCEAN (July 28, 2017) An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 flies over USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). The aircraft carrier is underway conducting test and evaluation operations.(U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt/Released)

The Navy recently validated a software fix for the revolutionary Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System used on the latest batch of supercarriers. This resulted in the first cat and trap when an F/A-18F Super Hornet (BuNo #166969) assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Jamie “Coach” Struck, being launched and recovered on the flight deck of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) 28 July 2017. Ford is underway conducting test and evaluation operations.

Trap

Cat